Making ready-to-eat meals in single or family serve portions is a time- and money-saving idea for busy individuals who wish to serve their families a hot, sit-down meal at the end of each day when extra family, school or work activities make it hard to find time to cook. Businesses, such as My Busy Day Gourmet (mybusydaygourmet.com), allow busy cooks to create their own homemade entrees and then professionally package the created meals for freshness and reheating convenience. Cooks can also invest in a vacuum food sealer to create their own home-cooked, ready-to-eat meals for hectic days (See Resource 1 and 2).
Things You'll Need
- Cooking ingredients
- Plastic or disposable storage containers
- Vacuum food sealer (optional)
- Plain labels and markers (optional)
Plan the menu for each ready-to-eat meal portion. Ensure that each meal has at least two proteins, one carbohydrate and one vegetable or fruit component. Choose a dessert or bread side if desired, and gather the chosen packaging ware in which the frozen or refrigerated ready-to-eat meal will be stored until usage.
Choose foods that reheat evenly if the ready-to-eat meal will be a hot choice. Place an instruction tag onto the packaging if special reheat instructions of any kind are necessary. Cooked vegetables reheat best with the aid of steam. If vacuum packaging the meals is possible, instruct that the sealed plastic be left intact over the vegetable portion with holes punctured to aid in steam production. Meats and starches most often reheat best with the plastic packaging removed to avoid soggy breading and non-crispy potatoes (See Reference 4).
Portion the meals once the food is fully cooked, in keeping with proper food safety standards. Properly wash hands before any preparation and packaging. Portion the meals when hot into individual trays for fast, safe cooling. Assist in safe and quick cooling by placing the filled portion meal tray into a larger pan and surrounding the tray with crushed ice. Vacuum seal ready-to-eat meals whenever possible for best retention of food quality. If freezing the meals, do not seal individual meals with an airtight cover until the food is fully cooled to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This keeps the food juices from forming ice crystals (See Reference 1 and 2).
Use refrigerated ready-to-eat meals within 24 to 48 hours. Some foods, such as salads, leafy greens, cut fruit and mixed salads with mayonnaise dressings or cottage cheese bases, begin to dehydrate, wilt or separate after being made and not used at least by the following day. These foods should not be frozen in ready-to-eat meals (See Reference 3).
Prepare more than one ready-to-eat meal at a time, and freeze the portioned meals that are not going to be used immediately. Pick one day each week to prepare the frozen household ready-to-eat meals for the entire week. This allows for one single run to the grocery store for necessary ingredients, one preparation time in the kitchen and only one necessary clean-up time.
Prepare the meals using ingredients that overlap and are used in more than one recipe or entree. In the same week, buy one jar of spaghetti sauce and make and freeze meals using it as a main ingredient, such as pasta, stuffed peppers and chicken Parmesan, or purchase three pounds of ground beef and vary menus by using it to make taquitos as well as lasagna.
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